911 Dispatchers Hear the Worst Moments of Our Lives. Who Listens To Them?

for Vice

Jamie Acosta still remembers the first call in which someone died. Over the phone, she learned that a 16-year-old had wrapped his car around a telephone pole. Afterward, she replayed it in her head, trying to figure out if she somehow could have gotten the ambulance to the scene faster.

She went home in tears, she said. This kid is dead, she told her boyfriend. And I don’t know if I did everything right. I don’t know if I could have saved him.

For almost anyone, an experience like that would register as traumatizing—the kind of thing that keeps you awake and agonizing over what else you could have done to save the person’s life. But for Acosta, it was something else, too: another day on the job.

Stories about the mental health struggles of people working new Silicon Valley jobs, like Facebook and YouTube moderators, have recently gained deserved attention. Largely forgotten are people like Acosta, who worked a job that has long existed with intrinsic problems and little effort to remedy them. As a 911 dispatcher in Illinois for 19 years, Acosta’s job was to sit and listen to the worst moments of people’s lives. The general public doesn’t always understand how difficult the job can be, but 911 telecommunicators have taken to calling themselves the “first first responders,” since they often serve as the very front line of life-saving communication. (Continued)

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